Lady in the Water
directed by M. Night Shyamalan
(Warner Bros., 2006)

This is the kind of film I typically enjoy, even if others consider it average at best. Oddly enough, though, the tables have been turned when it comes to Lady in the Water. Frankly, I just didn't find this to be a very good film. The story had potential, certainly, but M. Night Shyamalan's script, which involved way too many people coming together and accepting a most extraordinary story far too easily, is decidedly weak and flimsy. And while I certainly understand that the events that play out convey many a metaphorical meaning, too much of what I saw seemed to be made up as things went along.

And for something that supposedly originated with a bedtime story for Shyamalan's kids, it's so bloated with characters and plays so fast and loose with the few rules most fairy tales actually follow that it loses its appeal pretty quickly.

So, basically, what you have here is a sea nymph (Bryce Dallas Howard) named Story showing up in the dirty swimming pool of a seedy motel housing a really diverse range of tenants, from a grumpy, generally silent old man to Chinese immigrants to a film critic to a bodybuilder who only works out on one side of his body, etc. Story is discovered by Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti), the building superintendent, a good-natured soul and just about the only sympathetic character anywhere in the vicinity of this film. He takes Story in and slowly learns her story: she's a Narf who has left the Great Ocean temporarily on an important mission to change man's destiny, and she has to avoid some nasty Scrunts who want to stop her and prevent the Great Eatlon from carrying her back home -- and, by the way, there's another creature called the Tartutic who scares the heck out of Scrunts.

And what is this grand mission? She has to communicate a silent message to a young writer, played by none other than Shyamalan himself, whose book will basically save the world some day. It's not hard to see why some critics point to Shyamalan's ego having run totally amuck, especially given the fact he included in the story an unlikable film critic mouthing only cliches for no plot-related reason (but obviously for personal -- not to mention childish -- reasons). One must remember that Shyamalan threw a hissy fit and took his fairy tale elsewhere when the perceptive folks at Disney pointed out that the story needed some serious revising.

In the end, I'm afraid I have to agree with those who see Lady in the Water as a misguided product of Shyamalan's ego and filmmaking arrogance. Talk about metaphors all you like, but the film's plot is basically nonsense. At one point, Story -- who can see the future -- refuses to help all of her new friends by telling them who is supposed to represent whom, but she does agree to do the yes-no thing when they ask her questions. That's the kind of thing you expect to see in a sit-com long after it has already jumped the shark. And I still can't figure out why everyone in the motel bought into Story's story so easily. Giamatti turns in a brilliant performance, but that's about the only thing Lady in the Water has going for it.

review by
Daniel Jolley

14 July 2007

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